Shirakawa-gō (白川郷) is a place I never thought I’d visit in my lifetime. From all the pictures I’d seen, the timeless, isolated region struck me as a mystical land so far-removed from the modern twenty-first-century civilisation most of us picture Japan to be. Tokyo is overrun with towering skyscrapers, Osaka is swathed in an ocean of neon lights, and Kyoto houses more than a million souls. It seems Shirakawa-gō has missed the evolution memo, opting instead to preserve its ancient heritage amid remote mountains and thick forestry.
Shirakawa-gō’s largest village, Ogimachi (荻町), has a population of about 600 people and is the region’s main attraction. The town is littered with traditional gasshō-zukuri farmstyle houses, some over 250 years old. Made primarily of wood and straw, they are prime examples of the village’s distinct vernacular architecture, developed over many generations and designed to withstand heavy snowfall in winter (fun fact: Shirakawa-gō becomes one of the snowiest places in Japan in winter). It is known that when a farmhouse begins to show signs of wear and tear, the entire village gets together to help with the repairs. Talk about a tight-knit community!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Shirakawa-gō is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. As such, it has accumulated a “bucket list” reputation among tourists and visitors. Imagine our excitement when we were presented with the opportunity to stay in one of the traditional farmhouses overnight! Despite the complex reservation logistics involved, we were quite happy we chose to go through with it. Never let once-in-a-lifetime opportunities pass you by!
Staying at the “Shimizu Inn”
The family that we lived with (the Shimizu family) took very good care of us — meals were provided (delicious, home-cooked meals), and so were futons and yukatas. They also own an adorable (read: lazy) shiba inu. It was a real eye-opener, seeing how these villagers lived their daily lives. It was also a fantastic way for us to unplug from technology and spend our time living with nature. You can enquire about booking a night at one of the gasshō-zukuri farmhouses on this website.
Ogimachi Village from the Shiroyama Viewpoint
The Shiroyama Viewpoint, located north of the village center, offers a stunning view of Ogimachi and its farmhouses. This fantastic lookout is a must for all landscape photographers! The viewpoint can be accessed via a walking trail (it’s a little steep – our legs were dying by the time we reached the top) or via shuttle bus which leaves from the tourist information office in the center of the village. The viewpoint is inaccessible during heavy snowfall.